The Boston Daily Globe: Tues., Sept. 15, 1885
Pretty Girls Who Claimed to Be Men.
The Romance of "Rebecca," Afterward "Lawrence," H Payne.
A Father’s Efforts to Secure Possession of His Child.
The Washington Post publishes the following special from a reporter of that paper who was sent to Winchester to investigate the case:
WI.VCHESTKR, Va., September 1. — The residents of this quiet old town who were
startled some months ago by the discovery that Rebecca Payne, who had lived for some twenty odd years among them as a woman was in reality a man, are again excited over another case of the same kind, and in the same family. The matter gained public notoriety through a suit which was to have been tried today, but which was postponed until the next term of court. To understand the cause of the suit, it should be stated that Rebecca, now Lawrence R. Payne, had several sisters, of whom Sara was the oldest and Lelia the youngest. Sarah was married seventeen or eighteen years ago to Mr. Hugh M. Merritt, a well to-do farmer of Bellaire, O. Twelve years ago she died and left three children, one an infant of 3 or 4 weeks. At the death of the mother the infant daughter was taken by its aunts to their home in Virginia, where she has remained in their care up to the present time. They were all aunts then. Now they are uncle and aunts, and that is one of the reason why the little girl’s father objects to her remaining any longer with them. The child’s name originally was Sarah Elizabeth Merritt, but she has been brought 11 under the pet name of Bessie. Her grandmother, a woman noted for her intellect and culture, took care that little Bessie’s education was properly attended to. But her grandmother died last March. Then Mr. Merritt, who married a second wife soon after the death of the first, and who, during twelve yours, had taken little trouble in regard to his child appeared on the scene and asked to have her given back to him that he might take her lo his home in Ohio, where her brother sister had always been. Bessie bar learned to love her aunt, or her uncles and aunts, as the case may be. She knew little of her brother and sister, and hardly ever saw her father. She could not think of leaving her relatives, and declared she would rather die than go away to Ohio. Her aunts were as loath to part with her a she was to leave them, and
The Father’s Demand
was refused. Shortly after ho returned to Virginia and made a fresh demand for the custody of the child."God had probably convinced him again," said the lady to whom Payne is now married, "that it was his duty to take her." There is some little inheritance awaiting the day when Bessie will attain her majority. The renewed demand was refused, but this time the refusal did not as before, convince Mr. Merritt that he ought to leave the child with its aunts, who had protected her from infancy. He threatened process of law, but the aunts did not yield. One of the aunts, Mary, a few years age married Mr. Jacob L. Swimley, and the pair have since lived on a farm adjoining the ancestral homestead, which is still in the possession of Miss Bettie and Miss Lelia. Recently little Bessie has passed her time between Mrs. Swimley’s house and the old homestead. It was because Miss Lelia was one of the guardians of little Bessie at this old homestead that Mr Merritt, her brother-in-law, brought suit for the possession of his child. In his bill filed by his lawyers he does not lay so much stress upon his paternal rights as he does upon the unfitness of his sister in-law. The whole matter- is summed up in the following extract from old Mrs Payne’s testimony:
Question—Lelia Payne ever make any admission to you concerning her sex; if so when, where and in what terms?
Answer—She told me she was a male She told me so last October during our mother’s sickness. That was during our mother’s sickness. That was the last thin I was in her house.
Q.—Does Lelia Payne dress and comport herself as a woman, and is she so regarded by the community at large?
A.—She dresses as a woman. As for the rest I don’t know, but I suppose she has been regarded as a woman.
Q.—Are you related to Lolia Payne?
A.—I’m her grandmother.
Q.—Does Bessie Merritt sleep in tho same bed with Lelia Payne?
A.—I don’t know whether she sleeps with her now, but I know she did live years ago.
All the sisters combine against Mr. Merritt, and retained Mr. Holmes ‘Conrad, a well-known lawyer of Winchester, as their counsel. Through him they filed an answer resting on the negligence and unworthiness of the child’s father, and bringing into question the character of his second wife. Mr. Merrill’s lawyer, however, says the real question at issue is evaded, and claims that they will produce in evidence a statement based on an examination signed by Dr. Maguire. the same physician on whoso certificate Rebecca, now Lawrence Payne, procured a marriage license last year, that Miss Lelia is
More of a Man Than a Woman.
In the popular mind Miss Bettie, next to the oldest in age, is accused of the same heresy as Miss Lelia, but up to the present there is no testimony of a like character, and she does not strike the casual observer with an impression of her guilt. A short conversation with her gives the idea that her only masculine attribute is her intellect. She is undoubtedly a person of superior culture and refined taste. Her ideas are away above the commonplace and her language very choice. She practiced for years very successfully as a teacher in several schools and seminaries, but, owing to her mother’s last illness, she gave up teaching to take the part of family physician. It is well remembered how, in the beginning of last year, a handsome, dashing young woman made personal application to the clerk of the County Court at Winchester for a marriage license. She wanted to marry a Miss Hilton. The clerk took it as a joke at first, but afterword discovering that the applicant know better and insisted upon having the license, the license was refused, but only temporarily. The applicant was Miss Rebecca R. Payne of "The Rest," Frederick county, nine miles from Winchester, and very near the border line of West Virginia. She is well known in the county and had made a reputation for business ability by her success as a storekeeper, farmer and a breeder of fancy live stock. She raised some of the finest cattle in the country and there was no better judge of a horse to be met in the market. Miss Hilton had been her clerk and assistant in the store and about the farm. The store is a prosperous country place, a regular polytechnic where all sorts of supplies are handled, from a stick of candy to a plough or the materials of a silk dress. It is called "The Rest," probably because it is a stopping place between Winchester and Martinsburg, being about half way between the two cities. In a few days Miss Rebecca R. Payne returned to the county court to renew application for a marriage license. This time she was
Mr. Lawrence R. Payne.
Her long hair had been cut short and she was neatly dressed in coat, vest and trousers, and a derby hat; besides, she brought with her a letter from Dr. Maguire of Winchester, certifying that she was fully entitled to the new name and the dress which she adopted. The marriage license was no longer withheld, "she" or rather "he" was duly married to Miss Hilton, and the pair now live happily together in "The Rest:" but business is hardly is good at the store as it used to be. Lawrence, the husband, is not as much in favor with "the boys" of the county as Rebecca, the village maiden, used to be. For years it had been believed and conceded by many of the neighbors that Rebecca was entitled by natural endowments of business tact, as they say, to "wear the breeches." Rebecca herself thought so, and blamed the family for having kept her in petticoats so long. Nevertheless, the transformation created a sensation. It stirred the county to the utmost turmoil of astonishment and excitement. The girls with whom Rebecca had associated and their immediate friends were most astonished. Uneasiness and alarm reigned in all the families which had held any social intercourse with Rebecca. Consequently, after the metamorphosis and marriage, her former friends held themselves aloof, to the detriment of her business. The Paynes are one of the oldest and foremost families in this county, industrious, prosperous and highly respected. June Payne, Lawrence’s grandmother, lives on a farm in Berkeley county, West Virginia, about a mile from “The Rest.” She is now 85 years old, and has lived on that farm sixty years. She is pleasant in conversation and
She has just finished reading the Bible from beginning to end without glasses. She is much addicted to family prayers, and has a tender regard for the little chapel of the Paynes, which stands on a hill near her dwelling. The family are all Southern Methodists, for they are carful to point out the distinction between Southern Methodists and Methodist Episcopal, which is the Northern name. One of her favorite boasts is that she raised eleven children to manhood and womanhood— she was married at 16 – all of whom lived to marry and raise families of their own. Her son Joe, who was a magistrate, am died in 1863, wan the father of Rebecca now Lawrence. The old lady sometime uses one name an sometimes the other. Among the residents in the country who do not now patronize Lawrence’s store as they used to do is a farmer who lives no far from Stophcnson’s depot, which is about five miles distant. In the the days of Rebecca’s petticoat existence this farmer gave a party at his house am invited all the Paynes, including Rebecca. The merriment was kept up late, and all the guests stayed at the house for I ho night. The farmer’s hospitality was greater than his sleeping accommodations, and he made an effort for the comfort of the Payne sisters—’they were all sisters then"—which none but a very hospitable Virginian would think of doing. He was one of the most astonished men in the county when a few days afterwards Rebecca became Lawrence and married Miss Hilton.